Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, corporate leaders need to make clear where they stand, experts say.
Phil Roeder/Getty Images
- The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion rights.
- Companies like PayPal and PwC shared their memos to workers about the decision.
- Comms experts offered CEOs five critical components to draft an effective crisis memo.
ow that the Supreme Court has struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, many corporate leaders are going to have to weigh in with a written memo or statement.
Abortion is a difficult issue for companies, which risk alienating workers, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and others by taking a public stance. Many CEOs remained quiet on the subject when the Supreme Court’s draft majority opinion was leaked in May. Yet now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, silence is not an option, experts say.
“Employers need to know that now is one of those critical moments in history where they are given a choice to actually demonstrate to themselves and the communities most impacted by the overturning of federal legislation protecting people’s right to abortion who they really are,” said McKensie Mack, change-management consultant and CEO of MMG EARTH, which focuses on racial and social justice.
Corporate leaders have begun speaking out. In an internal memo shared with Insider, Lisa Ross, US CEO of the PR giant Edelman, condemned the ruling. She wrote that the high court’s decision could lay the groundwork for rolling back same-sex marriage and birth control.
“It’s not lost on me that on the heels of Juneteenth and the culmination of Pride Month, times where we honor historically marginalized communities, the Court’s decision represents another assault on human rights. In this very difficult environment, please take care of yourselves,” Ross wrote.
PayPal CEO Dan Schulman weighed in as well in an internal memo that was posted to the company website. “[The decision] allows for potentially widespread restrictions to reproductive healthcare access to immediately go into effect in states across the country,” he wrote.
“I understand the anxiety and concern that many of you and your families may be feeling at this moment. I want to be clear: caring for our employees is our highest priority. As a company, we are fully committed to ensuring that our U.S.-based employees have equitable access to the healthcare and benefits that they and their families need,” Schulman wrote.
Others have taken a more middle-of-the-road approach. In a memo shared with Insider, PwC’s US CEO Tim Ryan said: “We are a diverse firm in every sense of the word — from gender and race to our backgrounds, religious beliefs, personal experiences, hobbies, and our politics. It is that very diversity that makes us better,” he wrote. “One thing that we do have in common, however, is our values — and specifically, our care and respect for each other.”
CEOs can’t afford to stay on the sidelines on the issue of abortion, Carla Bevins, a professor of business communication at Carnegie Mellon University, told Insider before the Supreme Court handed down its decision. Companies that choose to remain silent do so to the detriment of employees relying on employers’ benefits packages for abortions and aftercare, she said
Experts say top CEOs are struggling to figure out how to respond effectively. Insider spoke with Bevins and Jason Thompson, an executive coach, on what steps CEOs should take in crafting the perfect memo regarding the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, abortion, and reproductive rights. They say CEOs should consider five critical components when drafting a memo: alignment with core values, communicating in a timely manner, concise messaging, appropriate tone, and the key components to include.
Align with your values
Before drafting a crisis memo, leaders must decide what position to take. According to Thompson, the most important thing CEOs can do right now is review their vision and mission statements and make sure that whatever they do aligns with that.
The murder of George Floyd was a watershed moment in America, forcing CEOs to commit to racial justice. Following the incident, Boston Scientific CEO, Michael Mahoney, addressed the incident in an open letter to employees that was a case study in how leaders should address hot-button issues in alignment with their values.
“George Floyd’s death reflects deeply ingrained, long-standing divisions in our society,” Mahoney wrote. The CEO went on to write that the executive committee felt “compelled” to “reaffirm our commitment to live by our values and cultivate a workplace that makes equality, diversity and openness priorities — a workplace that sets an example for the greater community.” Other CEOs who need to address controversial issues should take note of his letter, Thompson said.
“What gets people in trouble is inconsistent messaging. If you say you’re committed to the community, for example, and you don’t speak out on community-centered issues, you have done nothing to convince us that you’re living your values,” Thompson said.
No matter where a company comes down on an issue, timely communication is essential. “As a company, you and your communications management team want to have control of the message you’re sending out,” Bevins said.
“It’s incredibly important to have a timely message and to be clear and transparent with where you stand — even if the stance is ‘We don’t have a clear position at this point, we are looking into it.’ It’s essential that companies clearly articulate their position in a timely manner,” she said.
Clear, concise, upfront messaging
Memos should be brief, jargon-free, and clearly written to a specified audience. A memo should be one page, max, and straight to the point. “Identify two or three key points you want to cover. Bullet points can be very effective,” Bevins said.
Your reader needs to quickly understand the content of the memo and make a decision based on that information. “Be very judicious with the information you include,” Bevins said, warning that it’s not a time to add fluff. “You want to make sure that you are sharing only the key pieces of information that your audience needs.”
Use a tone appropriate to the information you convey, consider your audience, and think carefully about how your words come across to them. “You don’t want to come off unfeeling, especially with this issue. Leaders have to be very empathetic and caring with the tone of their message,” Bevins said.
When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were lifted, companies faced the uncharted challenge of returning employees to physical work locations amid an ongoing public-health crisis. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy met the challenge by sending a company-wide memo explaining return-to-office plans in a way communications consultants described as powerful, timely, authentic, and empathetic in tone.
“We’ve never been through something like this before, and hope we never encounter it again,” Jassy wrote in the 850-word memo. “When are we really going back to the office, what will that really be like, how will I allocate my time between the office and home, how will others do it?”
When employees “see a question that looks like a question they’ve been asking, they know that the CEO is hearing the voice of the employee,” Suzanne Bates, the author of “Speak Like a CEO” and a managing director and partner at the leadership consultancy BTS, said in an interview with Insider. “They think, ‘The CEO is attuned to what we’re talking about.'”
Where possible, communications teams should use language to echo the company’s mission and vision statements. “I always try to come up with the words so the language overlaps. Whether or not people agree with your stance, when questioned, you can say, ‘This is consistent with our mission and vision and how we see ourselves as an organization,'” Thompson said.
Include key components
Memos are divided into segments to organize the information clearly and help achieve the writer’s purpose. Bevins outlined the critical components for a clean memo:
- Heading Segment: To, From, Date, Subject. Be specific and concise in your subject line.
- Opening Segment: Include the purpose, context, problem, and the specific assignment or task of the memo.
- Task Segment: Describe what you are doing to solve the problem. Avoid insignificant details.
- Discussion Segment: Include all the details that support your ideas. Include solid points and evidence.
- Closing Segment: Close with a courteous ending stating the action you want your reader to take.
- Attachments: Provide detailed data at the end of your memo (lists, graphs, tables, etc.).
For Mack, the diversity consultant, now that Roe has fallen, the need for leaders to weigh in is clear: “We often say that if we had been alive during the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement, abolitionist movements during the Civil War, the fight for human rights for people with HIV/AIDS, we would hope to be the kind of people that would wield our power and privilege — no matter how much or how little — to do the right thing and advocate for people being targeted by destructive and violent legislation.”
This story was originally published in May 2022.